Stephen Hatherly (1827–1905) and his Journey to Russia

Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius
Trinity Lavra of St Sergius

Deacon Eugene Lyutko is a fellow in the Research center for the History of Theology and Theological Education at Saint Tikhon’s Orthodox University, Moscow and a PhD student in Theology at the University of Vienna. He researching modern history of Orthodox Christianity in Russia in intellectual, institutional and comparative aspects. 


I was very impressed with the recent EHS conference, and, as a three-time bursary holder, am always grateful for the Society’s support. This blog tells the story of an Englishman, obscure in his lifetime, who has received no sustained scholarly interest since his death, either. He was, however, probably the first Orthodox priest born English (some thought that he was the first orthodox Englishman ever), and definitely the first English Orthodox priest with a university degree. For me, as an Orthodox deacon, a research fellow in the University and a devoted lover of Britain, he is a topic of considerable interest.


One of the main areas of my research is the writing of Russian ecclesiastical history in the nineteenth century. The most important figure, without a doubt, was Fr. Alexander Gorsky (1812–1875), probably the first person in Russia who could be called a ‘church historian’ in the modern, scholarly sense, which term connotes, for me, devotion to the sources, ascetical ‘ethos of the science’, and a broad Russia- and Europe-wide correspondence. In this correspondence I once found once a small letter from Stephen Hatherly, the main figure of my story.


Hatherly with his wife in Wolverhampton, early 1870's © Paul Frecker
Hatherly with his wife in Wolverhampton; Paul Frecker / The Library of Nineteenth-Century Photography

Hatherly was born in Bristol in a prosperous and religious family. He took a degree in music at Oxford in 1856, and would probably have received a doctorate had he not been prevented probably he would be ready to get a higher achievement, but was “prevented from taking degree by the expense: ‘some £120’. He was received into the Orthodox Church through baptism in 1856, directly after his Oxford graduation, by a Greek priest, Narcissus Morphinos, being given the baptismal name of Timothy.

This was, however, the end of a longer process: he had discussed faith at some length with the chaplain of the Russian church in London, Fr. Eugene Popov (1813–1875). The manner of this bespeaks the strength of his opinions: being more suspicisous of Anglican ‘pretentions’ than even the Russian Church, he decided to pass through baptism, on the more severe Greek practice, rather than being satisfied with confirmation, as the Russian Church would have usually advocated.

We little know about his internal spiritual life at this time, but is known that while in University Stephen was attracted by the Oxford Movement. Edward Bouverie Pusey (1800–1882) wrote to him several times. As Hatherly affirmed later, he ‘became a Greek Priest of his own will, and in opposition to all the pro-Latin instincts of religious party’, i.e. the Tractarian party.

Being socially active, Hatherly wanted to promote his religious views in English society. When challenged, he riposted that there was no difference in principle between his own work and that of “itinerant and resident” missionaries sponsored by Protestant proselytizing organizations. But this was the immediate aftermath of the Crimean War, and in an atmosphere of political tension between Russia and England, attitudes towards Orthodoxy in the Church of England more generally were decidedly mixed. Even among High Church Anglicans who were becoming more sympathetic to Orthodox Christianity, there was dismay at Orthodox proselytization on Anglican turf.

Among the most celebrated examples of this was the controversy between Hatherly and William Denton (1815–1888), himself a devoted friend to Orthodox Christianity. Denton took a keen and friendly interest in the position of Orthodox Christians in the Ottoman Empire. However, he was a consistent opponent of Orthodox missionary activity on the British Isles. In a polemical exchange carried out in the press, he insinuated that Narcisuss Morphinos now regretted baptizing Hatherly. As a result, the latter filled a lawsuit and was awarded £40 in damages. The incident does, however, underline how far Hatherly’s enthusiasm for Orthodoxy distanced him even from potential High Church allies.

A similar controversy took place when Hatherly clashed with the German Orthodox theologian Julian Overbeck (1820–1905). Overbeck’s ambition was to disseminate the Orthodox worship in western Europe, and he was furious about Hatherly’s naïve attempts simply to transpose the Eastern rite into western society (e.g. removing pews from the church). Overbeck was even more furious about Hatherly’s 1869 travels in Russia, which suggested that he had won favour with the Russian hierarchy.

To be fair, Hatherly planned this travel long before Overbeck. His plans to visit to Russia were mentioned in the correspondence of priest Popov with the Chief Procurator of the Holy Synod (the highest governing body of the Russian Church), count Aleksey Tolstoy (1801–1873). ‘Even before your merciful remark that it might be permitted for Mr. Hatherly to visit Russia, I’ve been dreaming of this,’ wrote Fr. Popov to the count Tolstoy on 8 January 1859. However, this dream only began to be fulfilled ten years later. In 1869, according to the available documents, Hatherly trod a path that had been made by a number of English churchmen and which would be followed again by many of the Anglican great and good in ensuing decades, travelling from Petersburg to Moscow and then to Sergiev Posad (the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra and Moscow Ecclesiastical Academy).

In St. Sergius Lavra he met Gorsky, who showed him his academic library, packed with ancient manuscripts. In Sergiev Posad (or maybe in Moscow) Hatherly met Fr. Dmitry Razoumovsky, (1818–1889), the most eminent historian of Russian church music. His presence in Lavra on 4 July (St Sergius’s day) gave him an opportunity to meet many famous people: Lavra was central to religious life in Russia and St Sergius was widely regarded as a protector of the people. Four years later, Hatherly, now a priest – having been ordained in 1871 in Constantinople – ‘grandly’ celebrated this day in his parish, writing to Fr. Gorsky that ‘Troizka for me is the second mother’. Yet the attitudes of Russians towards their ‘the new brother of faith’ weren’t entirely positive. His eccentricity provoked suspicions conservatives, as witnessed in a letter from Princess Olga Odoevskaya (1797–1872) in her letter to Fr. Razoumovsky: ‘Honourable Dmitry Vasil’evich, receive favorably this strange individual, (…) [this] sham (мнимый) English Orthodox’.

After his journey to Russia Hatherly visited Constantinople, where he was ordained on 26 September 1871. After that Hatherley with his affiliates could open the Anglo-Orthodox parish in Wolverhampton that he saw as the consummation of his life’s work. But he did not remain there for long. Soon Patriarch Anthimos VI (1782–1877) of Constantinople, probably after lobbying from Anglicans and British diplomats, decided to close the parish and wrote Hatherly a pastoral letter, begging him ‘never, no, not in mind, to assume to proselytize one single member of the Anglican Church, which has equally exhibited of late toward our Orthodox Church so many proofs of sisterly love and sympathy’. The major part of his latter life Hatherly spent as a priest in the Greek parishes in Cardiff and Bristol, continuing his studies of Byzantine music.


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